Things to do in San Sebastián

The food is reason enough to visit San Sebastián, but you’ll also find plenty to do in the city’s cultural and natural neighbourhoods.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


The best things to do in San Sebastián

Set on Spain's northern coast, San Sebastián embraces its stunning natural surrounds and is definitely one of the country's most scenic cities.

Within this picturesque setting is a city full of amazing food, interesting heritage, and vibrant culture. So here are my tips on what to do in San Sebastián.

You come for the food, you stay for culture. Or is it the other way around? It doesn’t really matter. The point is, there’s enough here in San Sebastián to nourish both the body and the mind.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the food scene in the Spanish coastal city of San Sebastián?

I’ve written about the famous pintxos bars, which are a local form of tapas, but there’s much more than that.

San Sebastián has the most Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world. From the basic snacks in a roadside bar to fine dining with internationally-acclaimed chefs, the full range of the spectrum is here.

Things to do in San Sebastian: Food

It seems sometimes like the whole city is obsessed with food and everything revolves around it. No complaints from me.

But I do feel that maybe this obsession with food – from locals and tourists alike – can sometimes obscure the full picture of San Sebastián’s cultural scene.

The pintxos bars are part of the culture, true. The local cider houses are also part of the culture too, true.

But let’s not also forget about the art, the music, the architecture and, of course, the Basque traditions. They are all important elements in a thorough exploration of San Sebastián.

Culture in San Sebastian, Spain

The people of San Sebastián are very proud of their Basque culture.

As well as having their own unique language, there is music, dance and costumes all endemic to the Basque region.

While globalisation – and even nationalisation – could have threatened these things, there has always been a concerted effort to protect what makes this area so special.

Unfortunately, that has sometimes spilt over into violence in the past, with the actions of some Basque Separatist movements. Thankfully, though, violence appears to have been replaced by dialogue for the most part these days.

That’s why it was quite exciting and appropriate to see San Sebastián, at the heart of the Basque region, honoured as a European Capital of Culture in 2016.

things to do in san sebastian

During the celebrations that year, cultural events and installations were a huge focus. There were operas and theatre pieces; concerts and art shows.

When I visited that time, I saw a hands-on technology hub; a workshop on art and social emergencies; an exhibition about women in maritime history; a travelling caravan of erotica; and a puppet show. Among many other cool things.

Culture in San Sebastian, Spain

Some of the initiatives from that year stayed here permanently, which is why I’m mentioning it. It certainly brought a contemporary focus to the culture, but also allowed people to focus on the heritage.

Because amongst all the things to do in San Sebastián, there’s often a fine line between the history and the present. Many parts of modern life are still the same as they have been for generations. And many others are inspired by the heritage.

The maritime background, for instance, had a huge impact on the way the bay is used and the types of food that are commonly eaten.

The grand architecture in the old part of the town has been influenced by European trends, and they then flowed into the way the modern town of San Sebastián was designed.

Culture in San Sebastian, Spain

When you visit San Sebastián, you’ll probably want to see the main sights like the churches and the museums. They’re impressive and are an important part of the city.

But also look out for the small details- the boutique shops and fun cafes that have popped up in recent years and show a younger approach to embracing the good life here.

Culture in San Sebastian, Spain

And don’t also forget that this is one of the most naturally scenic cities in Spain, so it’s worth getting out amongst nature.

There are the mountains, with their views and walking trails. There is the bay and the stunning coastline. And there’s the broader region inland as well.

Culture in San Sebastian, Spain

The Basque people may be proud of their culture and they may want to protect it. But they also want very much to be seen as an integral part of the broader Spanish and European communities.

The militant element of the Basque Separatist movement has not gone away completely but the message here is clear: that is the minority.

It’s now not about independence or cultural differences. It’s about celebrating diversity and inclusion with something the Basque people know so well – fun.

So, here are my tips for the best things to do in San Sebastián.

Old Town

San Sebastián’s Old Town, known locally as Parte Vieja, is a vibrant historic heart of this charming Basque city. Steeped in tradition and brimming with character, it’s a must-visit for anyone exploring the city.

While you’ll find bustling pintxos bars and colourful streets here, there’s much more to discover. From its labyrinthine alleys to the stunning ocean views, this area offers a unique blend of culture and natural beauty that’s bound to enchant you around every corner.

Plaza de la Constitución

Nestled in the heart of the Old Town, Plaza de la Constitución is a bustling square with a storied past. It once hosted bullfights, and today, it’s a popular gathering place for locals and tourists alike.

You can sit at a café, sip on coffee, and watch the world go by while surrounded by charming buildings.

Plaza de la Constitución, San Sebastian

The square is also home to some quirky features like numbered balconies and a giant clock. It’s a great spot to soak in the local ambience and snap some pictures.

Basilica of Santa María del Coro

A short walk from Plaza de la Constitución, the Basilica of Santa María del Coro is a stunning architectural gem. With its Gothic and Baroque elements, it’s a visual treat for history and art enthusiasts.

Construction finished in 1774 although, because it was built on top of a Roman church, it’s considered the oldest church in the city and one of the main icons of San Sebastián.

Basilica of Santa María del Coro, San Sebastian

Inside, you’ll find ornate altars, intricate frescoes, and a serene ambience that brings some much-needed respite on busy travel days. If you haven’t skipped leg day, you should climb the bell tower for panoramic views of the city and the bay.

The Basilica of Santa María del Coro is open from 10:15 – 13:15 and 16:45 – 19:45.

Admission is free.

Iglesia de San Vicente

Just a stone’s throw away from Plaza de la Constitución you will find Iglesia de San Vicente, another testament to San Sebastián’s rich history.

This ancient church, with its Romanesque and Gothic architecture, comes with the usual dose of tranquillity you will find with old churches but there is truly something special about this cathedral.

As soon as you step inside you will be blown away by the striking altarpiece, comprising several statues and ornate golden niches. Don’t forget to look up and appreciate the intricate details in the ceiling either.

Compared to the nearby basilica, Iglesia de San Vicente is a bit of a hidden gem.

Iglesia de San Vicente is open daily from 9:00 – 13:00 and 17:00 – 20:00.

Admission is free.

New Town

San Sebastián’s New Town, or Centro, offers a stark contrast to the historic charm of the Old Town, providing a glimpse into the city’s contemporary side.

This vibrant, modern neighbourhood boasts elegant boulevards, upscale shops, and a lively atmosphere and as well as just exploring, you’ll want to look out for these landmarks.

Buen Pastor Cathedral

In the heart of the New Town, Buen Pastor Cathedral is an architectural marvel that seamlessly blends the old and new.

Its neo-Gothic design is a testament to San Sebastián’s evolving character, one of its most attractive attributes.

Buen Pastor Cathedral, San Sebastian

Step inside to witness the grandeur of the stained-glass windows and intricate stonework that are truly captivating.

You can even climb to the top of the cathedral for panoramic views of the city, a view you will never get tired of.

Buen Pastor Cathedral is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 – 12:30, as well as Saturdays and Sundays during services.

Admission is free.


After operating as a tobacco factory for almost a century, the Tabakalera building was converted into a cultural centre in 2015, with a series of spaces that can be used for different functions.

The offerings at Tabakalera are always changing, so it’s worth checking the website to see what’s on when you’re visiting. There are usually exhibitions, movie screenings, concerts, workshops and more.

Culture in San Sebastian, Spain

But even if there are no events you’re interested in, it’s free to walk through the renovated building, plus there are regular guided tours.

A lovely local experience, I think Tabakalera is a nice representation of a city moving into the modern age without letting go of its ties to the past.

Tabakalera is open Tuesday to Thursday, Sunday and public holidays from 10:00 – 21:00.
On Friday and Saturday it’s open from 10:00 – 22:00.

Admission is free.

Miramar Palace

For something more opulent, a leisurely stroll along the scenic seaside promenade brings you to the Miramar Palace, a magnificent former royal residence. Surrounded by lush gardens and overlooking the bay, it’s a tranquil oasis amid urban life.

The palace’s Belle Époque architecture is a sight to behold, and you can explore its stunning interiors too.

The gardens at Miramar Palace are perfect for a leisurely walk, a picnic, or simply basking in the serene atmosphere, with breathtaking views of the sea and the iconic La Concha beach.

Miramar Palace is open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 – 18:00, Sunday from 10:00 – 14:00.

Admission is free.


San Sebastián’s natural beauty is nothing short of breathtaking. Nestled between the Bay of Biscay and the Basque mountains, this coastal gem offers an array of outdoor wonders.

From pristine beaches to scenic hills and lush islands, there’s no shortage of things to do in San Sebastián to immerse yourself in nature.

La Concha

Stretching gracefully along the city’s edge, La Concha Beach is San Sebastián’s most famous natural wonder.

The soft, golden sands invite beachgoers to lounge and soak up the sun, while the gentle waves of the Bay of Biscay beckon swimmers and water enthusiasts.

La Concha, San Sebastian

The stunning backdrop of Monte Urgull and Santa Clara Island completes the picture-perfect scene.

Whether you’re sunbathing, swimming, or strolling along the picturesque promenade, a visit to La Concha is a quintessential San Sebastián experience.

Other beaches

La Concha isn’t the only fabulous sandy spot in the city and San Sebastián actually boasts a trio of beautiful beaches, each with its own unique charm.

Located on the other side of the river, Playa de la Zurriola is renowned for its powerful waves, making it a hotspot for surfers and water sports enthusiasts.

Nestled next to La Concha, Playa de Ondarreta provides a quieter, family-friendly atmosphere for swimming and relaxation and it is usually less touristy.

These diverse coastal offerings ensure there’s a beach in San Sebastián to suit every taste, whether you seek the thrill of the waves or a tranquil sunbathing spot.

Monte Igueldo

At the western end of La Concha, venture to the summit of Monte Igueldo by taking a ride on the funicular (an experience in itself!) to discover some breathtaking views of the city.

Monte Igueldo, San Sebastian

There’s more than just views, though, with an old amusement park on the mountain exuding nostalgia, with vintage rides and a charming atmosphere. Rides are equal parts charming and nerve-wracking, with some making it seem like you are dangling over the edge of the mountain.

Enjoy an ice cream while soaking in the incredible scenery over the ocean, especially at sunset when the bay shimmers below.

Monte Urgull

Meanwhile, at the eastern end of the beach, Monte Urgull rises majestically from the Old Town and is the perfect place to quickly escape the city and immerse yourself in some greenery.

Climb its winding paths to reach the Castillo de la Mota, a historic fortress with captivating tales to tell. The castle provides a fascinating journey through the city’s history, and the views of the bay from the top are simply magical.

Monte Urgull, San Sebastian, Spain

The hikes around Monte Urgull are generally considered to be quite easy, with four options starting from different points in the Old Town. They only take about 30-40 minutes to the top and you can make several stops along the way to enjoy the scenery.

Santa Clara Island

A short boat ride from La Concha is Santa Clara Island, a hidden paradise that is right in front of your eyes.

Some adventurous souls even choose to swim 500 metres to the island’s shore, helped by the relatively calm waters in the bay most of the year. If that’s not your thing, you can also rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard to make the crossing on your own.

With its small beach, picnic areas, and walking trails, Santa Clara Island is a perfect escape from the city’s hustle. You can explore the lighthouse or simply relax on the sandy shore.

Santa Clara Island, San Sebastian, Spain

The island’s seclusion and tranquillity make it an idyllic place to savour nature and soak up the Basque sun.


One way to celebrate San Sebastián’s cultural richness is through its diverse museums. From history to maritime heritage, these institutions provide fascinating insights into the city’s past and present.

Dive into the world of art, heritage, and innovation as you explore the city’s vibrant museum scene, some of the best things to do in San Sebastián.

San Telmo Museum

The San Telmo Museum is housed in a former Dominican monastery and gives the most complete journey through the history and culture of the Basque Country.

There’s an impressive collection that’s well presented, with the museum’s exhibits including an eclectic mix of art, photography, and ethnographic items.

San Telmo Museum, San Sebastian

As you wander through the cloisters and galleries at the San Telmo Museum, you’ll uncover the region’s storied past, from prehistoric times to contemporary Basque culture.

Also, don’t miss the thought-provoking temporary exhibitions that add fresh perspectives to the collection.

San Telmo Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday at the following times:
November to March: 10:00 – 19:00
April to October: 10:00 – 20:00
24 and 31 December: 10:00 – 14:00
It is closed on Mondays, 1 and 20 January, and 25 December.

A standard ticket is €6 and concession is €3.

Basque Maritime Museum

For centuries, Basque was a dominant maritime power, one of the first countries to whale commercially, and with a network that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Located in the heart of San Sebastián, the Basque Maritime Museum takes a look at some of these stories.

With a wide array of displays, you’ll gain an appreciation for the maritime history, from shipbuilding to fishing traditions. The Basque Maritime Museum‘s interactive exhibits make it an engaging experience for visitors of all ages.

Explore the vessels on display and even step aboard a ship to get a taste of life on the water. It’s also worth taking note of the building itself, which was built in the 18th century and used to monitor harbour operations.

Basque Maritime Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 – 14:00 and 16:00 – 19:00.
On Sunday and public holidays, it’s open from 11:00 – 14:00.

Admission is free.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum

Although it’s about 20 kilometres down the coast, in the small town of Getaria, I want to mention the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum because it’s easy to reach and is one of the best things to see while you’re in San Sebastián.

Although he was born in this fishing community, Cristóbal Balenciaga went on to become one of the greatest fashion designers of the 20th century, dressing royalty and celebrities.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, San Sebastian, Spain

The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum is in a large modern building and has an impressive collection of his pieces, showing not just the evolution in styles but also how his work fit into (and influenced) the culture of the time.

It’s well worth a visit and, while you’re here, you can have a look around the charming town of Getaria as well.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum is open at these times of the year:
November to March: Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 – 15:00
April, May, June, September, October: Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 – 19:00
July and August: Monday to Sunday from 10:30 – 20:00

A standard ticket varies depending on the time of year and the number of exhibitions on the schedule.
€10 (1 exhibition)
€12 (2 exhibitions)
€14 (3 exhibitions)
Concession is €9. Children up to 12 years old are free.

Food and drink

San Sebastián is a gastronomic paradise, renowned worldwide for its culinary prowess. Basque cuisine takes centre stage in this coastal gem, and the city’s dining scene is a true culinary journey.

From pintxos in the Old Town to exquisite Michelin-starred dining, San Sebastián offers an unforgettable adventure for food enthusiasts.

Pintxos bars

It won’t take long until you come across pintxos (pronounced pin-choss), the Basque version of tapas… just make sure you don’t call it that!

The main difference is that pintxos are more elaborate and you pay for the ones you eat (whereas tapas is often simple and offered for free with a drink).

These small snacks are usually displayed on plates along a shelf or on top of the bar in the Pintxos restaurant. Most of them are slices of bread with different toppings – meats, seafood, vegetables, cheeses.

Pintxos in San Sebastian, Spain

It’s not about eating enough to be full or replacing a main meal with lots of snacks. Like many bar or cafe cultures around the world, the pintxos are just an excuse to get together with friends or family.

An important thing to know about eating pintxos in San Sebastián: you need to keep the toothpicks that come with each one. This is how you keep track of how many you’ve eaten and what you’ll need to pay at the end.

Cooking class

Thankfully you don’t have to limit yourself just to eating the pintxos – you can also learn how to make them yourself.

Like most of the regions in Spain, Basque Country has its own distinct cuisine and dishes, and a good way to immerse yourself in the culture here is to take a cooking class.

As well as creating some of the most popular types of pintxos, you might also have a go at things like the local omelette, fish dishes, and salads.

San Sebastian cooking class

You don’t need to be much of a chef to try this – all experience levels are welcome.

If you’re interested, I would recommend this excellent cooking class that focuses on Basque cuisine.

Michelin Star restaurants

San Sebastián is a pilgrimage site for food connoisseurs, boasting multiple Michelin-starred restaurants. In fact, Basque Country actually has the highest concentration of these sought-after establishments in the whole country.

Some of the top ones to try are Arzak (3*), Kokotxa (1*), and Amelia by Paulo Airaudo (2*), which all present gastronomic artistry on a plate. Innovative Basque flavours are combined with global influences to create extraordinary tasting menus.

The precise service and attention to detail make dining at these establishments an unforgettable experience. From avant-garde techniques to exquisite presentations, each dish is a masterpiece.

The city’s Michelin-starred restaurants are a testament to its status as a world-class culinary destination but you better start making your reservations yesterday!

Cider houses

One of the most popular drinks in the region, cider, has been produced around San Sebastián for more than 500 years. So, if you fancy getting a drink, it’s about experiencing the heritage as much as the taste!

The region’s cider houses are located outside of the centre of the city, set amongst the orchards of apple trees that are used to make the drink in the season. At the most authentic ones, you can even get cider right from the tank!

Cider houses, San Sebastian, Spain

The cider houses around San Sebastián come in different sizes, but the largest ones have huge halls with rows of long wooden tables where you can join the locals for a drinks tasting, as well as a traditional meal of salt cod omelette, fresh cod with green peppers, and char-grilled steaks.

One of the best to visit is Petritegi. But if you don’t want to arrange transportation yourself, there’s this fantastic tour that is great value because it includes food and drink.


From my experience, I think you’ll enjoy San Sebastián’s charm even more if you’re able to explore it with a local.

From cultural walking tours to culinary adventures, the city offers a wealth of activities that allow you to delve into all its dynamic aspects.

Food tour

As I’ve said repeatedly, it’s all about the food! And, sure, you won’t have any trouble finding anything to eat – but will you understand what you’re having and will it be the best?

Knowing the proper way to eat pintxos can be a bit confusing at first, so it certainly helps to have someone show you how to do that without embarrassing yourself.

Pintxos in San Sebastian, Spain

For a taste of San Sebastián’s culinary delights, this immersive experience takes you to pintxos bars, markets, and local food hotspots where you can savour the city’s renowned gastronomy.

There are also some other great food tours here:

If you’re particularly into the drinking side of things, you can also take this tour that focuses on wine tastings, pairing the very best vino from the region with the delicious small bites that make Basque cuisine so famous.

City tour

Of course, it’s not all about the food and there are lots of other things to see in San Sebastián where you’ll benefit from having a guide.

Exploring a new city at your own pace will only get you so far, but there are some great tours in town where a local will help immerse you in the city’s history.

For instance, there’s this private historical walking tour to unravel the city’s past, where you’ll stroll through the Old Town’s narrow streets and hear stories of its medieval origins, its role in maritime trade, and the evolution of Basque culture.

Culture in San Sebastian, Spain

You can even combine the best of both worlds and take a tour that includes a drink and a light snack to add to the delights of the city’s highlights as you visit iconic landmarks like Plaza de la Constitución and Castillo de la Mota.

Cycling tour

If you feel like being a bit more active, you can explore the city from a different perspective on this small group bike tour.

San Sebastián’s bike-friendly infrastructure makes it easy to pedal through its charming streets, along the beachfront promenades, and up the scenic hills.

These tours offer insights into the city’s layout, historical landmarks, and stunning natural beauty.

Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a casual rider, a bike tour is a fun and eco-friendly way to discover the city. You can also book an e-bike tour if you want something a little less strenuous.

Boat cruise

You will have ocean views from all across the city… so how about enjoying a city view from the ocean?

Culture in San Sebastian, Spain

There are a few companies that run boat tours on the surrounding water so you can experience the beauty of San Sebastián and its picturesque coastline. The main one is this 40-minute catamaran tour.

These guided excursions offer a tranquil escape from the bustling city streets as you sail past stunning cliffs, beaches, and the iconic La Concha Bay. Learn about the city’s maritime history, witness the charming Santa Clara Island, and soak in the breathtaking views.

For something more exclusive, another option is a small private boat that will take you on this four-hour tour right along the coast (all the way to France!) including food and drinks. It’s a real treat!

Day trips

While San Sebastián offers a plethora of attractions, its proximity to other enticing destinations makes it an ideal base for day trips.

From here, you can explore some of the other Spanish coastal cities like Bilbao, head into the wine region, or even cross the border to France for the day.


A day trip to Bilbao unveils a world of culture and modernity. The Guggenheim Museum, an architectural masterpiece, houses contemporary art that’s a visual delight and this private tour includes a visit to the world-class institution, a must for any art-lover.

Stroll along the charming Casco Viejo, the old town, and relish pintxos in local bars. Don’t miss the iconic Arriaga Theater and the charming Ribera Market.

Bilbao offers a vibrant cityscape that beautifully complements the relaxed ambience of San Sebastián. Another tour also includes a visit to the captivating islet of Gaztelugatxe, a little-known treasure that is the perfect complement to a Bilbao day trip.

La Rioja wineries

Indulge in a wine-lovers paradise with a day trip to the renowned La Rioja wine region. Just a short drive from San Sebastián, this area is famous for its vineyards and world-class wineries.

Explore charming villages like Laguardia, surrounded by picturesque landscapes, and savour exquisite regional cuisine in the heart of wine country.

A guided tour allows you to sample exquisite wines while learning about the winemaking process. I would recommend this tasting tour, or there are some other options here:


From San Sebastián, France is so close that you can do a day trip there. So, why not cross the border to explore Biarritz, a coastal gem known for its luxurious charm?

Stroll along its beautiful beaches, including the Grande Plage, and witness surfers riding the waves. Visit the historic Biarritz Aquarium or explore the city’s stylish boutiques and cafes.

Don’t forget to take in the iconic Rocher de la Vierge, a rock formation topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary, offering stunning views of the Bay of Biscay.

You can take this day trip to the French Basque coast that includes a stop at the fishing village of Saint Jean de Luz as well as an unforgettable lunch in Biarritz.

Or have a look at these other great day trips:

Biarritz’s blend of elegance and seaside allure makes it an appealing excursion from San Sebastián.


You will find the more upmarket hotels in Centro but the Old Town (La Parte Vieja) is much more lively to stay in.


With modern and private dorm beds, A Room In The City is a great hostel in San Sebastián.


You’ll get friendly hospitality and affordable comfortable rooms at Pension Del Mar.


With an understated elegance, Boulevart Donostia is a wonderful boutique hotel.


And for a special luxury experience, I would recommend Maria Cristina, right in the heart of town.

Time Travel Turtle was supported by San Sebastian Tourism in partnership with iambassador but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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